REVIEW BY: Michael Broyles
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/21/2010
The first Albert Ayler album I reviewed (The Impulse Story) was a collection of songs spanning Ayler’s career at Impulse! Records. Like any great art, the album left me wanting more. I found myself thinking about Ayler’s music weeks afterward. I needed to dig deeper into his collection. Prompted by a good friend and mentor (a man I describe as a flautist philosopher), I began absorbing more of Ayler’s music and stumbled upon Spiritual Unity, the Albert Ayler Trio’s phenomenal breakthrough album.
What first struck me with Spiritual Unity was how cohesive the band is. With Ayler on tenor saxophone, Gary Peacock on bass, and Sonny Murray on drums, the Trio sounds like they were sharing a mind. The end goal is apparent; the Albert Ayler Trio successfully achieves interpersonal unity through its vivacious, charismatic, and explosive improvisations. Murray’s rhythmic, loose drums provide the perfect push-and-pull background for Peacock and Ayler’s interplay. It is in this interplay that this listener discovered the unity the album’s name refers to. Wherever Ayler goes, Peacock follows, and vice versa – to the point where the saxophone and bass sound like one inseparable instrument. (Think of a pianist whose left and right hand are complementary – Peacock is the left hand; Ayler is the right hand).
Although Spiritual Unity contains four songs, the album should be considered a unified whole (à la John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme). Each song is indelibly related to the others both musically and thematically. Unlike later Ayler compositions (“Universal Love,” “Love Cry”), the songs in Spiritual Unity refer more to an animistic, folk spirituality, often described derogatorily as “magic.” With song names such as “Ghost: First Variation,” “The Wizard,” “Spirits,” and “Ghosts: Second Variation,” the Albert Ayler Trio evokes images of frightening yet awe-inspiring spiritual wonders. The music is at times frightening, charismatic, beautiful, and jubilant.
Running just short of a half hour, this is an album I have listened to repeatedly for the past three days as I road-tripped through parts of Northern Arizona. I have yet to tire of it. Every time I listen to it, I hear something new. This is nuanced, unified, ecstatic improvisation at its best and an album I guarantee you will never forget.